Archive for the ‘Construction’ Category

‘Donju’ step in on state construction

Monday, March 16th, 2015

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Pictured Above (Google Earth): The Sunchon Thermal Power Plant Health complex

According to the Daily NK:

The donju —North Korea’s nouveau riche — have recently been expanding their business inroads. Whereas this contingent previously forayed in wholesale/retail businesses, the burgeoning real estate market, and transportation, they are now yielding profits by increasingly partaking in state construction projects, Daily NK has learned.

“The South Pyongan Sunchon Thermal Power Plant recently built swimming pools and bathhouses by utilizing waste heat recovery, a project in which several of the donju invested,” a source in South Pyongan Province informed Daily NK on the 16th. “The authorities merely granted permission—the entire project was undertaken with the money invested by the donju.”

The recently constructed swimming pool can hold up to 200 people, creating potential for significant financial profits to be split 50/50 between the state-run power plant and the donju investors, according to the source. She noted that since last year, the Sunchon Thermal Power Plant has already reaped in significant construction funds through residual revenue from the swimming pool.

“The swimming pools, bathhouses, and steam room facilities boast modern amenities, such as restaurants and snack bars, attracting scores of patrons,” she explained. “All the waste heat from the power plant turbines was squandered until the launch of this construction project, which was based on a proposal by the donju to redirect the secondary heat in order to establish swimming pools and steam bathhouses.”

Those members of the donju with more expendable wealth have impressive business acumen, utilizing connections with executives of state-run enterprises in order to partake in various profitable ventures. “The donju are doing what the state cannot ,” the source pointed out.

She expounded on this by saying that donju business domains are rapidly expanding to encompass state construction endeavors. Beset by financial difficulties, North Korean officials are heavily reliant on the donju to implement state-run construction projects, creating a de facto “public-private partnership.” Party cadres forge a symbiotic relationship with the donju: the former receive immense kickbacks from the latter, who are more than willing to pay for the opportunity to expand their business terrains.

“The city of Sinuiju has been carrying out a large-scale national project of building apartments recently,” a different source based in the city told Daily NK. As previously reported by Daily NK, a multitude of the donju have invested in this large-scale venture.

“The donju are investing in the apartment construction under the condition of attaining a certain degree of leasing rights; in other words, they will effectively own the place and charge rent to individuals to reap in profits,” she concluded.

Read the full story here:
‘Donju’ Step In on State Construction
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-3-16

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Science and Technology Hall to be built in Pyongyang’s Ssuk Islet

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

science-technology-hall

Pictured Above (Google Earth: 2014-9-21): Construction site of the Ssuk Islet Scientific and Technological Study Center

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

The Choson Sinbo, pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, reported on January 10, 2015 that a “Science and Technology Hall” is under construction on the Ssuk Islet on Pyongyang’s Taedong River. The hall is reported to serve as a “multi-functional technological service base which will conserve and maintain digitalized data of science and technological achievements made by mankind, and facilitate information sharing and exchanges through a network system.”

The newspaper stated, “The Republic with the national strategy to achieve economic revitalization through science and technology is emphasizing the need for informatization of educational materials in order to foster professionals in science and technological sector.” In also stressed, “In the Kim Jong Un Era, this project is under promotion to advance to the next level.”

Last June, Kim Jong Un visited the Ssuk Islet to provide field guidance for the “Ssuk Islet development project.” During the visit, Kim proclaimed, “The demand for scientific and technological knowledge sharing is increasing day by day,” and added, “Our Party [Workers’ Party of Korea] has decided to develop Science and Technology Hall in the Ssuk Islet to address the demands of the people.” According to the newspaper, the islet, which is situated at the gateway to Pyongyang, will be equipped with indoor and outdoor exhibition space and will “transform the scenery of the Taedong River.”

Last year, the faculty residence for the Kim Chaek University of Technology was completed (two, 46-story apartment buildings) on the riverside of the Taedong River. This high-rise, which looks afloat on the Taedong River, will be at the center of the currently-under-construction “Mirae [Future] Scientists Street.” This street will house various residential and public service buildings.

In particular, the newspaper claimed, “The economic trials suffered from the end of the 20th century with the blockade and sanctions from our adversaries has impeded the advancement of the information sector. Hence, the informatization of educational resources is one of the fastest measures to ensure the best conditions and environment for education.” It conveyed the Science and Technology Hall development in the Ssuk Islet will contribute to the efforts toward the “informatization of educational resources.”

It further elaborated, “The most pragmatic approach to meet the demand for knowledge dissemination is not to distribute compulsory literatures, teaching materials, and experimental equipment for every field and units which will require tremendous effort in terms of funds, materials and time.” Instead, the article stipulated that the more rational choice would be to “create a state-level system that can provide necessary information in digitalized data and share that information to the people.”

This can be interpreted as one of North Korea’s efforts to revitalize the economy through science and technology.

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New apartment construction in Sinuiju

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Chaeha-sinuiju-apartments

Pictured above (Google Earth: 2014-8-6): New apartment housing in Chaeha-dong, Sinuiju.

According to the Daily NK:

The real estate market in a strategic location of North Korea is heating up, with a recently new venture seeing apartment units being traded for up to 30,000 USD , the Daily NK has learned.

“Real estate development in Sinuiju City has been pretty active since two years ago,” a source based in the province told the Daily NK on Tuesday. “Starting last July or August, construction for high-rises has been underway in the Chaeha-dong neighborhood.”

The apartments in Chaeha-dong are being built on joint investments from foreign currency-earning enterprises and the donju [the new affluent middle class], according to the source. To clear the way for the lucrative project, Chaeha Market, the largest distribution market in the city, has been relocated to park grounds located in Namsang-dong.

While private property purchases remain illegal in North Korea, beleaguered by economic hardship, the state dolls out tacit consent to these endeavors, encouraging increasingly more illicit trade within the burgeoning real estate market.

In areas like Sinuiju, a main portal to and from China, there is no shortage of solvent buyers eager and willing to pay for property in the area, knowing its value will only continue to increase. The apartments taking over the Chaeha Market grounds are modern buildings of roughly 100 square meters, constructed from materials exclusively imported from China. Situated in a prime location near Sinuiju Customs House, the complex offers convenient transportation options compared to other locations, warranting the relative high prices, according to the source.

Units in the complex come in three varieties, depending on their stage of completion: “If only the framework of the apartment is put up, it is sold for 20,000 USD; if interior construction is completed, it trades for 25,000 USD; and if decorative touches are added, it fetches 30,000 USD,” she explained. According to exchange rates in North Korean markets on the 7th, 1 USD trades for roughly 8,000 KPW.

Labor for the cause consists of workers from state-run enterprises and “8.3 Workers” with special expertise. The term, “8.3 Workers,” stems from a system where workers earn money outside their state-mandated workplaces and present de facto tax payments back to their employers but also keep a portion of the profits. In this case, the “8.3 Workers” are sectioned off into “8.3 Units” of five to eight people, tasked with plastering or putting down tiles in one unit within the residential complex.

Regarding compensation for their work on the new building, “8.3 Groups” reach an agreement with the construction company, affiliated with a foreign-currency earning enterprise, on rates and then work around the clock once ground breaks on the project. “Time equals money,” as the source said, adding that one worker is estimated to receive roughly 30,000 [3.75 USd] to 50,000 KPW [6.25 USD] a day of work and is guaranteed rations and meals.

For investors, however, the project yields far more significant returns. “If an individual invests in one of these companies’ real estate construction project, the profits are divided up 3:7 and the investor receives a 30 percent share from sales of the completed property,” the source explained.

Donju invest in housing construction projects with these firms because they are unable to receive legal permission from the Ministry of Construction to engage in such personal investments. Although donju involvement in these undertakings has been known to sometimes take the form of loans offered to construction firms at lofty interest rates, this method proves less popular for the simple fact that there is less guarantee for them to receive what they are owed; needless to say, no laws exist to protect these–by official North Korean law–illicit transactions.

This fact propels most of the donju to invest in the permanence and relative stability property offers, all while skimming 30 percent of the overall profits from the sale; it is also why the source speculated this form of investment to continue to gain traction.

She added that demand for news persists on with unhindered growth. Party cadres and the donju continue to purchase completed units; in fact, many even buying two or three units using their relatives’ names to ensure future usage.

Meanwhile, residents of Chaeha-dong in Sinuiju are currently residing at the Sinuiju Medical University dorms or at homes of their relatives. The source reported that these temporarily displaced persons will be moving in, free of charge, to the newly built apartments following their completion. She noted, however, that this contingent forms a disproportionate percentage to those who have purchased units within the complex.

Read the full story here:
Real Estate Market Booming in Sinuiju
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-01-14

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Rising prestige of Pyongyang General University of Architecture

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The status of the Pyongyang General University of Architecture is on the rise in the Kim Jong Un era. North Korea has been paying particular attention to the university, in order to attribute this effort as the achievements of Kim Jong Un. Since Kim Jong Un’s ascension to power, several large-scale buildings have been constructed and are being propagated as a symbol of the new advancement of his regime.

On November 26, 2014, the Rodong Sinmun (the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea) praised the Pyongyang General University of Architecture, calling it an “outpost for the construction of a powerful civilization,” and covered nearly the entire fourth page with articles relating to the school’s history, education, and research achievements.

According to the Rodong Sinmun, the Pyongyang General University of Architecture is responsible for completing over two hundred architectural design plans, including the housing complex for the scientists working on North Korea’s satellite program. The university is renowned in North Korea for its unprecedented accomplishments in the research and manufacturing of state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, which it argues were possible “thanks to” the First Chairman Kim Jong Un.

Specifically, back in 2013, Kim Jong Un agreed to act as the university’s honorary president. The newspaper emphasized the great strides made under his leadership.

Kim Jong Un visited the university in 2013 and explained, “After contemplating over which university to make field guidance to, I decided to come to the Pyongyang General University of Architecture because of its prominence and importance in building a highly civilized socialist society.”

The Pyongyang General University of Architecture is unique in that it is the only university that has First Chairman Kim as its honorary president, indicating his great interest in the field of architecture.

The university, which was founded in October 1953 as the University of Construction, had its name changed to the University of Architecture and Building Materials in 1970, and then to the Pyongyang University of Architecture and Building Materials in 1997. The university has seen a sharp rise in its status since the start of the Kim Jong Un regime.

The university had its status elevated from a college to a full-fledged university in November 2010, directly after Kim Jong Un formally appeared as the successor to the Kim Jong Il regime. The university, originally named as “The Pyongyang University of Architecture and Building Materials,” received its current name from First Chairman Kim Jong Un in December 2012.

Alongside the change in status of the university, the status of its graduates, including Ma Won Chun, the Director of the National Defense Commission (NDC) Design Department, have also increased accordingly.

Previously, on November 18th, the Rodong Sinmun enumerated the major large-scale architectural projects completed during the first three years of the Kim Jong Un regime and attributed the successes to have resulted from Kim’s love of the people.

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New central bank building appears completed (on the outside)

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Ray Cunningham took this picture of the DPRK’s new Central Bank headquarters in September 2014:

Central-bank-Cunningham-2014-9-13

The outside of the building appears nearly completed. Still no mention in the DPRK’s official media.

I wrote an article about the project for NK News back in 2013.

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New statues at Security University of the DPRK (MSS University)

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

MSS-Uni-Statues-2014-11-19

Pictured above: Security University of the DPRK (formerly “University of KPA Unit 10215″) in Mangyongdae District (39.044446°, 125.633676°)

KCNA has announced the unveiling of new statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at the “Security University of the DPRK”. The bases for these new statues can be seen in the satellite imagery, but the statues themselves can be seen in the official photos below:

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According to the article:

Present there were Kim Ki Nam, Choe Thae Bok, Pak To Chun, Kim Won Hong, Jo Yon Jun, and commanding officers of the Ministry of State Security, officials of security organs at various levels and teachers, students and employees of the university and their families and officials and those of meritorious services of units which contributed to erecting the statues.

Kim Jong-il last visited this facility on May 5, 2009. Kim Jong-un has yet to make an official visit.

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Kim Jung Un Stresses Protecting National Heritage

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

The DPRK leader Kim Jong Un recently emphasized the work of national heritage protection through the announcement of Nojak. In the DPRK vernacular, Nojak means the immortal writing of the highest leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

In October 30, DPRK’s Chosun Central News Agency reported that on October 24, the First Chairman Kim Jong Un made a statement on “National Heritage Protection Work as a Patriotic Business that Brings Honor to the Heritage and History of Our Nation,” together with members of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, in celebration of the 20th anniversary (October 29) of field guidance at the tomb of Tangun in Pyongyang by Eternal Chairman Kim Jong Il.

During the discourse, First Chairman Kim Jong Un stressed that “it is our strong will to flourish as a powerful nation which has inherited a glorious culture with a long history of being a universally civilized country.”

He went on to say, “by well managing the preservation of the remains and relics of the old capital city of Pyongyang and Kaesong, further interest should be turned in preserving the remains that have meaning as a national treasure in other suburban areas.” He also pointed out that “we need to fight hard the tendency of Dadaism, which refuses the superiority of one’s country and not managing the preservation of relics, which leads to the phenomenon of damaging them.”

He also added, “It is important to preserve the original form and not destroy the ecological environment of the scenic spots” and also stressed that “it is important to set up a thorough countermeasure so that the scenic spot will not be destroyed or polluted because of wastewater and factory pollution, pests and underground development of resources, and forest fires.”

Kim Jung Un also said “parts of the city and districts have not turned their interest in managing the preservation of historical remains; therefore, precious historical relics have been stolen or destroyed.” He further pointed out that “there has been cases where the ecological environment had been destroyed and the scenic beauty had vanished at the scenic spot.”

“Cabinet, relevant ministries and central organizations should turn their interest to historical remains and museums where maintenance and construction should be focused at these scenic spots so that facilities, materials, and funds that are demanded can be supported with responsibility.” He also proposed a solution: “through tourism and observation of historical remains and scenic spots, a portion of money that had been earned should be turned into the fund for protecting the ethnic heritage so that it can be managed autonomously.”

He went on to stress that “at the Guidance Bureau for the Preservation of National Heritage, in order to designate the natural heritage and historical monuments of the people at the UNESCO World Heritage, exchange business with other countries and the UN has been underway, especially in strengthening academic exchanges related to national cultural heritage, and especially with the compatriots of the South and overseas.”

Furthermore, he stated that the “Complex of Koguryo Tombs and historical relics at Kaesong City had been designated as a World Heritage; however, there needs to be continuous work in finding more of our country’s outstanding material heritage, non-material heritage, and natural heritage to be registered at the UNESCO World Heritage.”

In the discourse, Kim Jung Un stated that “national heritage work is a patriotic business which can lift up the country and a way to hold on to the tradition and history of the country.” He added that the “principle of identity, principle of history and scientific history are the basic principles that need to be consistently followed in order to develop and protect the national cultural heritage.”

The recent talk that has constantly stressed national heritage protection work by the Kim Jung Un regime can be seen as a move to infuse pride in the people for the history and culture of the country and to strengthen the solidarity of the people.

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North Koreans working on Qatar construction projects

Friday, November 7th, 2014

According to The Guardian:

In the sprawling construction zone that will eventually become Qatar’s gleaming $45bn (£28bn) Lusail City, where the 2022 World Cup final will be held, four construction sites are said to be using North Korean workers, although there is no suggestion they are involved in building World Cup stadiums.

On one site, North Koreans battled biting desert sands and searing heat to construct a luxury residential tower. They laboured on as day turned to night, long after workers from other nationalities had left the site.

One North Korean worker helping to build the high-rise said: “People like us don’t usually get paid. The money does not come to the person directly. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s the [North Korean recruitment] company’s business.”

A project manager of the lavish development said the workers “don’t have a single rial themselves” and “borrow money from us if they need small things like cigarettes”.

“The descriptions of the conditions North Korean workers endure in Qatar – abuse of vulnerability, withholding of wages and excessive overtime – are highly indicative of state-sponsored trafficking for forced labour,” a modern form of slavery, said Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-Slavery International.

Sources in Qatar estimate there may be as many as 3,000 North Koreans working on projects across the emirate. They are part of an army of workers the North Korean regime exports around the world to bring in much-needed foreign currency. According to defectors’ groups, there may be as many as 65,000 North Koreans abroad, mainly working in Russia, China, Mongolia and the Middle East.

Kim Joo-il, a former army officer who escaped North Korea in 2005, estimates that the Pyongyang government typically takes 70% of the total salary of workers abroad, and that after all “fees”, notionally for food and accommodation, have been paid, workers will be left with only 10% of their salary.

Two employees of state-run North Korean recruitment firms operating in Qatar admitted that their workers do not receive their salaries in person, but insisted a proportion of their wages are sent back to the workers’ families in North Korea.

A spokesperson from the ministry of labour and social affairs said: “We take all issues around worker payment extremely seriously. There are currently 2,800 North Korean guest workers registered in Qatar and we have no recorded complaints about their payment or treatment. Qatar is determined to continually improve labour conditions for all who work in the country, and will continue to work with NGOs, businesses and other governments to achieve this.”

North Koreans are alleged to have participated in construction of facilities at South Africa’s World Cup as well.

Here are previous posts involving Qatar.

You can read the full story here:
North Koreans working as ‘state-sponsored slaves’ in Qatar
The Guardian
2014-11-7

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New satellite imagery of Pyongyang (2014-9-21)

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Google has offered some beautiful new satellite imagery of the Pyongyang area dated September 21, 2014. The imagery shows the Pyongyang region remains an area undergoing tremendous transformation that has taken place over the last decade. Below I have highlighted some of the more interesting changes that have appeared in the last few months.

1. The nearly completed Wisong (Satellite) Scientist Street (위성과학자거리) in Unjong District, Pyongyang: 39.231244°, 125.870377°

Wisong-Scientist-Street-competed-2014-9-21

The Satellite Scientist Street is in Unjong District next to the State Academy of Sciences and inside the newly-announced Unjong Cutting-Edge Technological Development Zone. The area is approximately 900m x 360m and consists of 24 residential blocks (each seven stories, appx 13m x 80m) of alternating green and yellow. There are also approximately eight parks (of one kind or another), nursery, kindergarten, primary school, junior secondary school, standard North Korean retail outlets, hospital, polyclinic, health complex, greenhouses and vegetable gardens. Also constructed nearby is the new Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences and a new Paesomjon train station.

After being out of public view for over a month this fall, Kim Jong-un made a notable appearance here on October 14. It was completed and opened on the 17th. Officially the compound is for scientists at the State Academy of Sciences.

2. Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage (평양육아원,애육원): 39.042442°, 125.794987°

Pyongyang-Baby-Home-Orphanage-2014-9-21

This new orphanage in Pyongyang is by far the country’s largest and nicest. It sits on a plot of land approximately 110m x 250m. Kim Jong-un visited the completed facility on October 27.

During the construction, many visitors to Pyongyang were unaware of the location of this project (I know because I asked). This is because it lies secluded behind exclusive leadership residencies (Undok Housing Complex and and United Front Department Housing) in northern Taedonggang District.

location-of-orpanage-2014-10-31

3. New luxury restaurant boat on Taedong River: 39.014252°, 125.755015°

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A large restaurant boat is under construction on the banks of the Taedong River in central Pyongyang. Not much is known about this boat yet, but it is approximately 118 meters long–nearly twice the length of the largest restaurant boat in the DPRK, the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat. The investors in this project must have high expectations. It will be interesting to see if these boats will all be managed by the same organization, and whether the Pyongyang consumer economy can support two such operations.

NK News was the first to report on this boat back on September 11. You can see a photo of the ship here.

4. Progress made on Mansudae Underground Convenience Store (만수대 지하편의상점): 39.026505°, 125.749284°

Mansudae-Underground-Convenience-Store-2014-9-21

 

A Koryo Tours delegation in March of 2013 was the first to report that the Hakdanggol Fountain Park had been torn down to make way for a new facility in the heart of the central district.  The DPRK has yet to announce much information related to the project, but tourist photos indicate it will be an underground shopping center below a park.

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5. Progress made on high-rise shopping center near Tongil Market: 38.982815°, 125.733247°

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Situated just north of Pyongyang’s most popular market (for foreigners), the Tongil Street Market, and just south of the failed investment project KKG Avenue, this large high-rise construction project continues to make progress. The building appears to have an “H” shaped base approximately 110m x 70m. This project is likely being supported by foreign investors, however we do not know who they are or anything substantive about this project.

6.  Progress made on East Pyongyang Shopping Mall (동평양지구 상업거리): 39.030246°, 125.775913°

east-pyongyang-shopping-mall-2014-9-21

The groundbreaking ceremony for this project was held on January 16th, 2014, but little substantive work had been done as late as April. The construction site is approximately 270m x 110m and was unoccupied as far back as 2000. When launched, this shopping center was under the auspices of the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC–the same organization responsible for the nation’s new economic development zones) and a Chinese consortium named “Great China International Group”. Since the launch, the  SEDC, Ministry of Foreign Trade, and the Joint Venture Investment Corporation (JVIC) have been merged into the Ministry of External Economic Affairs (Not to be confused with the External Economic Affairs Commission which was dissolved in the late 1990s).

7. Closure of east Pyongyang tram depot and removal of tracks

FORMER-East-PY-tram-2014-9-21

According to new satellite imagery, one of Pyongyang’s tram lines has been removed. The tracks, which were inlaid into the road, seem to have been completely pulled up and the roads repaved. The tram depot remains in eastern Pyongyang, but it can be easily be re-purposed to serve as storage or manufacturing needs in the future.

East-PY-Tram-depot-2014-1-27 East-PY-Tram-depot-2014-9-21

It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on the Sadong Market which lies directly next to the former tram depot. It would have been relatively easy for customer to travel to the market with such convenient public transport, but will people make the effort when the commute becomes more complicated?

UPDATE: Reader Gag Halfrunt sent in the following helpful information:

Judging by this map from Transphoto.ru the closed tram line is the eastern portion of line 1. Line 1 has another depot at the western terminus in Mangyongdae, which is still open in the latest Google satellite photo.s.

Indeed there’s a note on Transphoto.ru saying the line will be converted to a trolleybus line. Translated by Google, it says:

Tram line 1 of route to the east of the city Songsin and depot at the end of the line are closed. The tram is expected to be replaced by trolley. This line was the only one in the city where the tram followed by the middle of the carriageway and not along the roadside, which is not the North Korean standards. Previously the line had already been shortened to Sintra area-Dong, before the bridge, on the east bank of the river Tedogan, before you reach the town center . Tram Pyongyang also begins to experience significant deficits with operational rolling stock.

 

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Pyongyang residential high-rise collapse (UPDATED)

Monday, October 20th, 2014

UPDATE 10 (2014-10-30): Satellite imagery on Google Earth confirms that the new building was nearly completed by September 21. So the basic frame of the new building was completed in just a few months! How safe do you think it is!

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UPDATE 9 (2014-10-20): Satellite imagery confirms the North Koreans are rebuilding on the site of last summer’s building collapse:

Building-collapse-2014-7-3

This image was taken on 2014-7-3, so it could be completed by now.

More at Radio Free Asia (in Korean)

UPDATE 8 (2014-7-7): NK News reports that the DPRK requested assistance in relationship to the collapsed building.

“The Korea Rescue Association got a request from the ‘General Bureau of Red Star Construction’ for assistance related to the Pyongyang apartment collapse, [and] on July 6th they submitted a request to visit North Korea,” a Daily NK translation of the statement said.

The statement added that the Korea Rescue Association requested entry into North Korea on June 26 to further investigate the situation, but were still awaiting a decision.

Unusually, the request for South Korean assistance appears to have come nearly four weeks after the May 13 accident occurred, on June 9.

UPDATE 7 (2014-7-3): NK News provides independent corroboration to North Korean claims that a Pyongyang apartment block collapsed on May 13, confirming the subsequent search, rescue and clean-up operation was completed in under just four days.

UPDATE 6 (2014-6-12): The Daily NK reports that  rumors are circulating in Pyongyang that the building collapse was the fault of Jang Song-thaek.

UPDATE 5 (2014-6-3): NK News has an exclusive report done with All Source Analysis on the building collapse. Includes great information and the first satellite images of the site after the collapse.

UPDATE 4 (2014-5-24): The Daily NK offers information purported to come from Pyongyang.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-22): Everyone seems to agree that the decision to go public was made only after there was “nothing more to see here”. The motivation for going public with this story is unknown–even today accidents resulting in loss of life are rarely reported in the DPRK media. There are two (at least) theories. One theory is that foreign reporters were tipped off and began calling North Korean embassies asking questions. A second theory is that North Koreans were spreading news of the collapse via cell phone so the government needed to take public action. These theories are not mutually exclusive. We still do not know when exactly the building collapsed or how many were injured or killed. None of the injured victims have appeared in the DPRK media.

The speed with which the rubble was removed from the site is also remarkable. Where was it taken? Maybe one day a satellite image will appear that reveals the answer. However, judging from the official photos, it appears to me that some rubble was not removed, it was simply covered over with dirt.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-21): Kim Jong-un followed up the building collapse with a visit to the Taesongsan General Hospital where he met with injured soldiers (construction workers?) and orphans. If there were any survivors from the collapsed building at the hospital, the media reports did not mention them. Next he visited new apartment housing for instructors at Kim Chaek University of Technology. Let’s hope these apartment buildings don’t collapse.

UPDATE 1 (2014-5-19): This was picked up by the following media: The Diplomat, 노컷뉴스, Radio Free Asia, 국제신문, Reuters. The Choson Ilbo used the information from this report but did not cite the source.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-5-18):

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KCNA has announced the tragic collapse of a high-rise apartment building in Phyongchon District:

Pyongyang, May 18, 2014 00:00 KST (KCNA) — It is the consistent stand of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the state to prioritize the interests and conveniences of the people and hold them absolute and protect their lives and properties.

But there occurred a serious accident in the construction site in Phyongchon District, Pyongyang on May 13 as the construction of an apartment house was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner. The accident claimed casualties.

Right after the accident the state emergency mechanism was put into action to conduct an intensive campaign to rescue survivors, treat the wounded and arrange the scene of the accident.

The rescue operation came to an end on May 17.

Minister of People’s Security Choe Pu Il, General Officer of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces Sonu Hyong Chol, Chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee Cha Hui Rim, Chief Secretary of Phyongchon District Committee of the WPK Ri Yong Sik and other officials concerned met the bereaved families, citizens in the district and other Pyongyangites to express deep consolation and apology.

Choe Pu Il said the responsibility for the accident rests with him as he failed to uphold well the WPK’s policy of love for the people. He repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough-going measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident.

With nothing can he atone for the crime he committed against the people and he can never be pardoned, he said, repeatedly expressing deep apology to the bereaved families and other Pyongyang citizens.

He made a firm pledge to make sure that the Ministry of People’s Security becomes a genuine security organ which always protects the interests, lives and properties of the people, true to the party’s noble intention of putting the popular masses above all.

Sonu Hyong Chol said that he was chiefly to blame for the accident as he was in charge of the construction. He expressed heart-felt consolation and sympathy to the victims and the bereaved families and said he was making an apology, his head bent, to other Pyongyang citizens who were greatly shocked by the recent accident.

The party has always stressed the importance of raising the quality of structure, but he did the construction in a slipshod manner as he did not have the proper stand of serving the people, thus causing such a serious accident, he said, making a solemn determination to do utmost to eradicate the aftermath of the accident and bring the living of the bereaved families to normal as early as possible.

Cha Hui Rim said that the party has always called on the officials to become genuine and faithful servants of the people but he failed to have the proper control over the construction of the apartment houses as a man responsible for the living of the citizens of the capital city, thereby causing such a serious accident. He has no face to stand before the bereaved families and other Pyongyang citizens and feels deep compunction for them, he said, pledging to make sure that the officials of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee do their utmost to alleviate even a little the pain of the victims and the bereaved families and bring their living to normal at the earliest possible date and to prevent the recurrence of similar accident.

Ri Yong Sik said that seeing for himself the victims in the scene of the accident, he felt as if his heart were falling apart and was too shocked to cry. He added that he could not raise his head for his guilty conscience as he failed to protect the precious lives of the people so much valued and loved by the party.

He made an apology to the bereaved families and to the citizens in the district again, vowing to come to senses, though belatedly, and motivate the officials in the district to bring the living of the bereaved families to normal, take good care of them, find out every possible cause of accidents and take preventive measures and thus fully guarantee the lives and security of the people.

Kim Su Gil, chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the WPK, said that the recent unexpected accident caused damage but there is loving care of our mother party which takes care of all people of the country and relieves their pain, adding that Marshal Kim Jong Un sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident, instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs, and command the rescue operation to recover from the damage as early as possible.

All Pyongyang citizens are sharing sorrow with the bereaved families and victims, he said, adding that the party and the state are taking effective emergency steps to bring the living of the families of victims to normal and provide them with new houses. He called on all to overcome sorrow with courage.

Based on information in KCNA, I can offer a satellite image of the collapsed building (pre-collapse):

Collapsed building-Google-earth

The building was approximately 23 stories tall and approximately 15m x 23m per floor. Construction on the building began between May and September 2011 (image below)

Collapsed-building-September-2011

It is rather remarkable that the entire site could be cleared of debris in just four days. Additionally, I cannot see any serious damage to the surrounding buildings, though coverage is scarce. The neighborhood in which the collapsed building is located contains no less than 17  high-rises that are either under construction or recently completed. If I was living in one of these buildings I would not be feeling very confident right now.

Phyongchon-collapsed-building

These buildings were part of the DPRK’s speed housing construction campaign to celebrate Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday. Here is coverage in the New York Times. Here is coverage in Yonhap. Here is coverage in NK News. Here is coverage in the Wall Street Journal. Here is coverage by Choson Exchange. Here is coverage in the Washington Post. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

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